Scripture: And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’S army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:14-15 ESV
Observation: On the eve of warfare against Jericho, having circumcised the men, celebrated Passover, and feasted on the fruit of the land, Israel is fit for battle. But there remains one last element of preparation. Joshua, while surveying the lie of the land surrounding Jericho’s walls, peers upward and, to his surprise, sees a humanlike warrior with his sword drawn. Unaware that he has encountered a celestial being, Joshua asks the angel of the Lord whether he is a friend or foe (v.13). But the mighty angelic warrior surprises Joshua with a curt “No.” He is the commander of the army of the Lord. Thus, Joshua, being a good soldier and commander, wisely falls prostrate as an act of deference and asks for orders (v.14). The Lord’s commander directs Joshua to take off his sandals because he is on holy ground (v.15), echoing Moses’ encounter at the burning bush (Exodus 3:5).
The author’s telling of this surprising encounter between an earthly and a heavenly warrior ends with a short notation that Joshua obeyed. The reading audience learns no more about this commander of the Lord’s army, for this scene ends abruptly, as was the dialogue between the two warriors.
Takeaway: While theologians debate whether the commander of the Lord’s army is the angel Michael or a prefigure of Christ, one thing is sure: this supernatural being speaks with the authority of Israel’s God. Hence, this humanlike warrior who provokes Joshua’s fear response succinctly informs Joshua that the battle belongs to the Lord. Moreover, it is not a matter of whether God is on Israel’s side (which he is) but whether Israel is on Yahweh’s side. Thus, this encounter with the commander of the Lord provides the essential visual aid that will leave an indelible mark in Joshua’s mind as he leads Israel into conquest against the enemies of Canaan and one within their ranks (Achan).
So how does this story apply to us? It’s the same. We will fail if we take on our adversaries without godly patience, discernment, and preparation. And if we hope to prevail, we must conduct ourselves in a manner that demonstrates we are on the Lord’s side and trust him to bring us victory. Because if we launch into conflict relying on our strength and intellect, we fall far from the heights of our self-reliant pride.
And how do we prepare ourselves for battle? Reminding us that we fight not against flesh and blood but the principalities of darkness, Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20):
- belt of truth,
- breastplate of righteousness,
- shoes of the Gospel of peace,
- shield of faith,
- helmet of salvation, and
- sword of the spirit (Word of God).
Indeed, our best foot forward into conflict is with reliance on the promises and commands of God (his truth) founded in an assurance that he has imputed his righteousness to us through the Son. Thus, we tread carefully and confidently into the fray of the battle, appropriating Christ’s peace founded in his Gospel, guarding our hearts with the gift of faith and our minds with the assurance of our salvation. And we submit all our intentions under the authority of Scripture that bridals our tongues from untoward remarks and inspires us to speak words that bring forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Lastly, we keep reminding ourselves that we are on the winning side, for the battle belongs to the Lord.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son, who fought against our ultimate foes (our sins and our accuser) and brought us victory. Would you please help us through the guidance and equipping of your Holy Spirit to trust in and rely on you to lead the conflicts that remain in our fallen world with confidence that the battle belongs to you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling